Joe Ranft (1960-2005), RIP

Joe RanftThis is really sad news. Joe Ranft, a major part of Pixar’s creative team, died in an auto accident yesterday, according to this post on Animation Nation. Ranft was one of the heads of story on both TOY STORY and TOY STORY 2, as well as the voice of Heimlich the Caterpillar in A BUG’S LIFE. He had also worked on story for THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, THE LION KING, WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT and THE RESCUERS DOWN UNDER, among other films. More details to come…

Update (1:20am): An obit from Joe Ranft’s hometown newspaper, the WHITTIER DAILY NEWS.

Update (4:45pm): Pixar story artist Ronnie del Carmen writes in his BLOG:

People cannot say much but just gave each other embraces to quell the sadness. Eventually we all met at the atrium. It is the saddest day at Pixar. The population at work had never been this silent except for the sound of grief. Ed Catmull, visibly shaken walked out to deliver the sad news. John Lasseter stood beside him but could not speak…Joe is the very best story man ever and the best human being I’ve known in animation. He is mentor, friend and inspiration to all of us who do this job. The last meeting I had with Joe was a Story Lead meeting where we share the collective known knowlege of those of us who’ve done Head of story jobs. Great stories of how to and why. And we earmark things we want to improve. As always with Joe it was about accentuating the positive and finding what works with people. I will miss him.

Update (3:54pm): Here is the HOLLYWOOD REPORTER obit with scary details of how the auto accident happened. Ranft was a passenger in the car. The car’s driver, Elegba Earl, was also killed, while another passenger, Eric Frierson, survived the accident.

Update (2:32pm): Here’s a nice SALON article/interview with Joe Ranft that offers some insight into his personal background and his approach to storytelling, as well as explains how he became involved with voice acting at Pixar.

Update (1:32pm): Pixar story artist Enrico Casarosa writes in his journal:

Joe Ranft, the heart of Pixar, was killed yesterday in a car accident. We are all hit hard by this sudden news and we’re all beyond sadness here at the studio. Joe’s contribution to Animation has been immense and far reaching. He taught and mentored a whole generation of creators, I can’t even begin to describe how dearly he will be missed. His spirit and legacy will live on through the hundreds of stories that are being told and will be told by all the artists and directors he mentored and inspired. A prayer from all our community goes to his family.

Update (1:00pm): ASIFA-San Francisco president Karl Cohen emailed me with the following:

Bill Plympton called me and said Joe was one of the nicest guys in the world and that he had helped Bill a great deal with his career. Bill was quite upset by this tragic event as I’m sure all of us who knew him are. I first met Joe when he worked for Selick on Nightmare. Bill Plympton took me there to meet him and the 3 of us had a lovely lunch together. I knew him as a warm, friendly nice guy who didn’t let his success fill him up with self-importance. He had already worked for Disney and I believe I saw him on TV win an Oscar for his work at Pixar, but the few times I saw him over the years he was just Joe.

Update (12:41pm): A remembrance by ‘Sputnik’ on Animation Nation:

I was already working for Disney features when this new guy showed up one day from CALARTS. He was big, funny and had the most joy and life in him that I have seen in anybody before or since. We all knew a giant was among us. A giant heart, a giant talent, a giant smile-maker. Darrell Van Citters was the first to spot his storytelling and entertainment talent and put him on Roger Rabbit as a story artist. He and Tim Burton hit it off immediately too. We used to play volleyball at break and Tim would act like he had a remote control in his mad scientist hand and shout orders to TOR—the Plan Nine actor. Joe was a lovable zombie. Tim cast Joe in his live action short called “Luau” as I.Q–the big doof in the gang. Joe got laughs and had real screen sincerity. No wonder he made a fantastic voice actor later. Joe was always sought after by every top director at the studio–including John Lasseter. Nobody appreciated or loved Joe more than John. My heart goes out to him today and for nothing to do with animation. That is a seperate loss. This is the loss of the best friend a guy could ever have. A gentle soul with a heart of gold who magically knew how to make us interested in any stories he wanted to tell us. And after the story was told—we had met new animated friends that would be with us for our entire lives. And so will Joe.

Update (12:21pm): A report on this blog by Tara about the scene at Pixar:

Yesterday the main story guy at Pixar, Joe Ranft, passed away in a car accident near Mendocino. He’d been at the studio since ’92, and been a lead person on just about every movie made here, so _everybody_ knew him. They called a company meeting at 10am, but the news was already known by then. I walked into the Atrium to over 700 people standing silently, looking at Ed Catmull and John Lasseter try to speak through their grief. … I’d never seen an entire company come screeching to a halt the way it did today. It was sobering, though also sort of beautiful. I’m sure Joe would have been pleased to know how loved he was.

Update (12:08pm): Animation legend Floyd Norman remembers Joe Ranft:

Joe was the finest of the new generation of animation story tellers. I was lucky enough to work with Joe at both Disney and Pixar, and he always amazed me with his ability to tell a story. What a terrible loss for all of us who love animation. Boy, I’m going to miss him.